Sunday, August 31, 2008

AT THE 1966 HUGO Awards, there was a tie between the two best Science Fiction novels of the year, Dune by Frank Herbert and ...And Call Me Conrad (aka This Immortal) by Roger Zelazny. Now Dune has gone on to achieve broad popularity, known to the non-SF audience via movies adaptations if nothing else, while Zelazny's book would be unfamiliar to most.

But it's the better novel, in my judgment. Oh, I was dazzled by Herbert's novel(s), like everyone else (well, almost everyone), but now I find them somewhat plodding and a bit pointless. Even at the time they first appeared I was bothered by the way he changed the whole ancestral memory thing after the first couple books -- the genetic explanation never made much sense. Nevertheless, there is a lot of rich detail in Dune. It's a flashy novel, one that makes a big impression on first read.

Zelazny, on the other hand, has a depth to his work. He was one of the 'New Wave' writers of the 60s -- the Science Fiction equivalent of Post Modernism -- along with such authors as Samuel 'Chip' Delany (whom I had the honor of meeting twenty-odd years ago), Ursula K LeGuin, Michael Moorcock. Zelazny is a stylist -- his prose is highly poetic and that alone would be enough to attract me to his writing. Sometimes it resembles a cross between the imagery of Raymond Chandler and the simple (but meaningful) poeticism of Tolkien.

There's more than just the writing itself, however good it may be. Roger Zelazny's fiction tends to tackle some big meaning-of-existence type questions. Often well hidden in the stories! Even his most popular and seemingly 'lightest' work, the Amber series, explores free will and how it shapes our world. Indeed, creates it. Man becoming God (or godlike) is common theme in his books -- that's a concept that has always struck a chord in me. Striving is good! :)


Bob said...

Zelazny is one I have unfortunately not read any of yet... I am a big Dune fan, tho mostly of the first book... I think the whole story took a long decline as the series progressed.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have read Frank Herbert, a number of his inc. the Dune series, but I haven't read any Zelazny. But I am intrigued after reading what you've said here. Actually I have one of his novels, a hardcover I bought at an ex-library book sale. It is an Amber novel 'Trumps of Doom'. A friend recommends I read it.

Stephen B said...

'Trumps' is the first book in Zelazny's second series of Amber novels. Just reread it this past week! I don't think the second series (5 short novels) is as good as the first series (also 5 novels), beginning with 'Nine Princes in Amber.' The whole Amber thing proved quite a money-maker for Mr Zelazny so he may be excused for writing on.

I was first introduced to his work via the short stories,'A Rose for Ecclesiastes' et al. They hold up very well today. Incidentally, Roger Zelazny was quite a promising young poet before he decided to put his efforts into writing fiction.